“Great, more zombies,” Amaya says when the cousins return to the edge of the chamber containing the elephant statues and the pool with strange magical properties. The animated corpses of the drow rogues the cousins slew on their first foray stand in the room, one of them hip-deep in the enchanted waters.
“There’s no need to bother with them. Let’s go around,” Nasti says.
The cousins circle back to the hallway intersection where they defeated the deep gnome zombies and decide to see if the hulking xulgath is still in residence to the east. And indeed, the gray-scaled reptilian still occupies the octagonal chamber. Rather than smashing rocks with its iron bar, it stands leaning against it. Intertwining snakes of differing sizes are carved in relief on the walls and ceiling. A black marble altar is set against each of the room’s remaining walls. Each altar has a strange object on it.
The creature glances over to the west where the cousins enter with their light and grunts in Draconic. “You again? Surprised anyone is still alive in here. Anyway, this is still my shrine. So, leave or die.”
Nasti translates for her cousins, somewhere between amused and put off. Then she asks the xulgath, “Shrine to whom?”
He glances at the iconography, then back to Nasti, blinking slowly. “Serpents. Obviously.”
“Think he’ll mind if we pass through?” Nova asks.
“He did last time,” Amaya says. “Are we going to make him our problem or leave him to the Order?”
Nova looks thoughtful for a moment. “Armin asked us to destroy any tainted objects. I suppose this shrine and the others we found might qualify.”
“Hey, yeah,” says Nasti. “And Naryalla’s scholar friends would also likely be interested.”
The xulgath interrupts their discussion. “Last warning. Go away, or X gon’ give it to ya.”
Nasti translates, and Amaya sighs, raising her sword. The xulgath sneers and stalks toward the cousins, reaching into the stone floor and lifting his arms violently. This action sends a roiling wave of rock rushing toward them, which batters them all severely. Worse, the creature exudes an overpowering nauseating stench that brings tears to the cousins’ eyes.
Nova chokes back bile and summons the void, which slows the xulgath a little, then takes a couple of cautious steps north. Amaya retches, steeling herself against the bad smell, then engages the xulgath and draws its attention to her with a vicious slash to its ribs. The creature barely even blinked, and she felt his hard scales resist even her critical strike. Nasti orders Canter to advance and breathe euphoric gas into the brute’s face, but it doesn’t seem to faze him.
The xulgath cracks his neck, hefts the digging bar, and strikes Amaya with it twice. Hard. Nova’s eyes widen as she releases the void and reaches for healing magic to pour into her cousin. She advises retreat, and her cousins do not argue. The xulgath does not pursue, and they return to the surface and Marwyn’s camp.
* * *
16 Gozran, 4720 AR
Returning to the deep gnome intersection, the cousins head south through the illusory demon arch. Crates line the eastern wall, and a round table and four chairs sit in the middle of the room. In the southwestern corner is an ironbound chest that has a glowing rune on its top.
Most of these crates contain a couple hundred pounds of mundane goods – food, chain links for armor repair, harnesses for beasts of burden, and excavation tools. None of the food has been opened or eaten, but it is preserved and still good.
“I wonder what that rune is protecting,” Nova says.
“Me too,” Nasti says. “I have to know.” She dispels the rune and opens the chest, which contains a spell scroll, sapphire necklace, and thirty gold pieces.
“Okay. Flame doors?” Nova says.
“Sure. Have we figured out how to turn them off?” Amaya asks.
“Nope. I just walked through the only one I’ve tried.”
They leaped through the burning portal, each getting a little singed, and found themselves in another odd chamber. The corpse of a drow female in studded leather armor lies near the entrance. In the center of the room stands a metallic scarab-like statue the size of a dog squatting among several piles of metal. Familiar-seeming mirrors that have green glowing frames hang from the walls. Amaya inspects the body, which appears to have been slain by jagged slashing and some horrific impaling device that chewed up a deep puncture wound. Seeing nothing of value beyond the bloodied armor and a hand crossbow lying on the floor nearby.
She leads her cousins into the room proper, and with a whir, the metal “statue” lurches to life, a blade buzzing where its mouth should be. In motion, it looks something like a four-legged mechanical spider cast as a single piece of electrum with a crystal in the front of the body. Nasti lobs fire at the automaton, but it is swifter, forcing its way through Nova’s void to leap onto Amaya and stab her with a wickedly bladed drill. The bit digs into the half-elf’s flesh and attaches the electrum horror to her. Then it brings the sawblade mouth to bear rending armor and meat with similar abandon.
Fortunately, electrum is a softer metal, and between Amaya’s desperate slashes and her cousins’ magic, the automaton stopped moving before it could renew its attacks. They extracted the drill bit from the half-elf and stopped to treat her wounds and inspect the strange mirrors more closely.
Only one appeared to still be active and as Nasti gazed into it she saw a familiar chamber. Cracked mirrors are mounted on the walls of a shadowy room, and each mirror has a frame glowing with a green light. That glow is the only illumination for the chamber. The room ends in a precipice that apparently drops into a much larger room. A long ladder lies flat near the edge.
“Looks like the military removed the bugbear bodies from the ledge near the doorwarden’s pit,” the tiefling says. “I guess these are the only two mirrors still linked and sort of functioning.”
A search of the automaton reveals an affixed round piece of electrum with a stylized claw sigil. It proves magical under Nasti’s witch-sight, and at Canter’s prompting, she removed the small medallion. She studies it for a minute and determines that it is likely a token used to bypass a magical barrier similar to a password for glyph of warding.
“So THAT’S how they are doing it,” Nova says.
“I don’t know how many of us it’ll get through, but it’s something,” Nasti says, offering the token to the human.
“Offering up a piece of jewelry? Who are you and what have you done with Nastassia?”
The tiefling’s eyebrows knit. “I have a bit of protection from fire.”
Amaya puts an arm around Nasti. “I’m so proud of you.”
“I don’t have a problem.” Is she trying to convince Amaya, or herself?
“Well, thank you.” Nova then moves to the gate to test it out. Whenever she stands adjacent to the arch, the eyes of the demon cast a spotlight on her chest, and she moves the medallion into the light. The demon’s gaze remains there for a moment, then the flames disappear.
“Go, go!” Nova says. “I’ll stand here until y’all are through.” Nasti and Amaya hustle through, and Nova follows them. The flames reappear a moment later. Exchanging smiles at having made some progress in understanding the Slaughtergarde complexes, they pass through the flaming demon arch to the west without trouble. Beyond, they find another intersection. The corridor continues west for a short distance before opening into another chamber. A hallway also heads south for a short distance before turning west again. The cousins enter the room.
Neatly made beds line the chamber’s northern and southern walls, and a padded manacle with a four-foot chain bolted to the floor is at the foot of each bed. The western wall is an avalanche of rock and dirt unlike the masonry on the other walls. Amaya leads the way into the chamber.
“Is this where they kept the svirfnebl-” Nasti cuts off as a squelching sound from above draws the cousins’ attention to a glossy black ooze covering a significant portion of the ceiling. Pseudopods emerging from the ooze alert them to the danger.
“Oh… Ewww,” Nova says.
Amaya acts first, getting out from beneath the ooze’s mass and taking a moment to try to recall anything she may have read about such things in her occult studies. Nothing springs to mind so she shrugs and brings her sword to bear in a devastating slash right down the center of the ooze. Or what would have been devastating against a different entity. Instead of causing it injury, the blade splits the ooze into two separate pieces, each apparently capable of acting independently. Amaya swears, even as Nasti casts a fireball over her cousins’ heads, catching both slime-creatures within the blast. Whatever else the ooze resists, it burns just fine.
One piece of the ooze reaches for Nova and the other goes after Amaya. Each strikes its target with an acidic appendage that then grabs onto and squeezes the adventurers. Nearly blinded by the pain, the oracle heals herself with a spell. Amaya switches tactics and punches the slime attached to Nova, her fist burning from the contact with its acidic bulk.
Nasti strikes each piece with electric arc, and they sizzle under the magical assault. Unfortunately, the slimes maintain their grip on her cousins and continue squeezing them with burning pseudopods. Seeing Amaya nearly buckle with the pain, Nova’s next healing spell restores the half-elf’s flagging vitality. Then she strikes her piece of the ooze with her staff of healing, which splatters into its bulk without apparently harming the wood.
Amaya draws her silvered short sword, hoping the piercing weapon will do better than her larger blade or fist. Unfortunately, when the point impacts the ooze, it splits again, and then there were three. She swears, drops the short sword, and punches the ooze again, this time moving quickly enough to avoid burning her fist. Nasti’s next electric arc takes out two of the three, and she uses battle medicine to soothe some of Nova’s burns. The remaining ooze puddle violently attaches itself to Amaya, and Nova heals her cousin again before the half-elf brings the encounter to a dramatically pugilistic end.